Monday, July 03, 2006

Maurice Valentine is a slick operator, an equal mixture of talent and compromise, a former World War II flying hero and Menninger Clinic mental patient who at 40 is ready to sell--and resell--his soul. He's also a hugely successful architect: a surprising occupation for the lead player in a superb crime novel.
Valentine, born Maurizio Viglioni, has traded more than his birth name for the money and fame of being one of the design elite of Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1956: He is married to the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Joseph Kennedy Sr. figure who is a U.S. senator from Nevada and wants his son-in-law to be the state's other senator. It's a move approved of and probably even engineered by Valentine's wife.
One of Valentine's pork-barrel government jobs is designing and building the fake houses used in atom-bomb tests in the desert. As a crowd of celebrities, power brokers and high rollers gathers on the top-floor lounge of his Las Vegas icon hotel, El Sheik, to watch a test, shots are fired. Wounded, Valentine gets more involved than he should by digging into the past lives and crimes of the leading players--uncovering all sorts of ghosts.